An aperitif — an alcoholic drink before a meal — may not only stimulate appetite but may also increase food intake by altering how the brain responds to food, according to a new study published in Obesity.
Data on the relationship between alcohol and weight gain are conflicting, the investigators noted, but the research generally supports a link between the two.
“Given the rise in reported alcohol consumption, particularly wine, in the United States, overeating following alcohol consumption may contribute to weight gain and significant health-related consequences,” they wrote.
Although the exact mechanism underlying alcohol and the potential for overeating remains unclear, researchers have proposed that alcohol consumption may increase appetite by affecting certain regions of the brain.
For this study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) response to food aromas of roast beef or Italian meat sauce after IV infusion of alcohol in 35 nonobese women.
The researchers evaluated participants once during an infusion of 6% vol/vol of alcohol in saline, keeping them at a breath alcohol concentration of 50 mg/dL, and once during an infusion of saline only. Participants’ intake of roast beef with noodles or Italian meat sauce with pasta after undergoing fMRI was assessed.
Results revealed increased BOLD activation to food odors vs. non-food odors in the hypothalamic area during the alcohol infusion vs. the saline infusion. Additionally, the researchers found that, after the alcohol infusion, food intake went up and ghrelin levels were decreased.
“We demonstrated that acute brain exposure to alcohol significantly increased food intake in congruence with previous aperitif studies, and that the orexigenic potentiation occurred in the absence of alcohol’s orosensory or gut effects. Furthermore, we replicated findings that ghrelin counterintuitively decreases in the presence of alcohol, suggesting that the peptide does not drive the aperitif phenomenon,” the researchers wrote.
They also noted that the BOLD response to food aromas after the alcohol infusion suggests that the hypothalamus may be the site of action for the effects of an aperitif.
“Further research should elucidate the mechanism by which the hypothalamus affects food reward salience,” the researchers concluded.